Natural gas offers cleaner air without sacrificing jobs: Jackie Stewart (Opinion)

Jackie Stewart
Jackie Stewart

Guest columnist Jackie Stewart is state energy director for Energy In Depth-Ohio, an industry-funded public relations, research, education and public outreach campaign focusing on on-shore energy resources, including natural gas drilling.

The shale revolution is upon us, and one need look no further than the Buckeye State to see just how much of a positive impact hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, has had on job creation, economic development and even the environment.

Cleveland State University just announced a study that finds Utica shale development has added more than $50.4 billion of investment to Ohio’s economy in just six years, supporting over 192,000 new jobs. Yet, this astounding number does not even account for billions of investment to come from energy infrastructure and natural gas-fueled power plants, which are slated to create thousands of additional jobs throughout the state and generate hundreds of millions in taxes.

In terms of economic development, not only are counties seeing major investments in new projects thanks to shale — consumers all over the state are also realizing incredible savings on everything from their electric bill to their fuel tank. In fact, three major Ohio job creators — MillerCoors Brewing, Wright Patterson Air Force Base and Cleveland Thermal — recently announced investments of more than $34 million combined in converting their boilers to natural gas.


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The conversion to natural gas has paid off both for the environment and for the economy in southwest Ohio, where motorists have been on the hook for 12 cents a gallon more during summer months in exchange for not having to participate in the E-check vehicle emission program. This year, thanks to fracking and these natural gas conversions by MillerCoors and Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Cincinnati and Dayton motorists are slated to see $44 million in savings, as the region has finally met the air quality standards, ending their summer fuel hikes.

This highlights perhaps the most overlooked benefit of shale development, which is the tremendous environmental improvement Ohio is seeing as a result of these types of natural gas conversions.

For example, Cleveland Thermal’s conversion alone — which will yield an 84 percent reduction of carbon dioxide emissions — equates to planting a dense 19,000-acre forest. MillerCoors Brewing saw a 37 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, 88 percent reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions and 96 percent decrease in sulfur dioxide emissions last year thanks to natural gas. And the Wright Patterson Air Force Base’s switch to natural gas is expected to eliminate 1,000 tons of sulfur dioxide emissions, 200 tons of nitrogen oxide emissions, five tons of particulate emissions and 290,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions, helping the base to meet Clean Air Act regulations while saving the air force base $2 million a year in fuel costs. Ohio EPA Director Craig Butler recently said, “You get a really big picture perspective of how much success we have seen over the years in improving air quality.” Yes, we have — thanks to fracking and clean burning natural gas.

What policymakers at both the federal and state level need to understand, and Ohio has proven, is that the shale revolution is not just a win for the economy — it’s a win for the environment, too. Thanks to fracking, Ohioans do not have to choose between stable jobs or clean air. We can enjoy all of the benefits that a thriving economy brings and breathe easy while doing it.